Saturday, August 22, 2009

Is It a Novel or a Memoir? This Is the Question

The book has been written, the second book started, but the query is killing me. I started the first book as a memoir then changed my mind and called it a novel. 2,000 people have read it and they think it's a memoir. These 2,000 people don't know me, but they say it makes them cry and reads too true to be a novel. That says something sad about the novel as a form.

Many of the readers were men, and even the men said, "This is my family you're writing about." That seems to be the most common comment. Readers can relate to my characters. So now what? Can I market a memoir as a novel or should I look for an agent who specializes in memoir? I can't really write my query until this question is settled. Can I call it Autobiographical Fiction?

I was married to a writer who called his writing Autobiographical Realism. It got him a PhD and a life of slavery as a university professor. That was not the life I wanted. I just wanted to write. Now that I've been writing for 20 years I want to publish. Any suggestions?


Gail said...

Hi there -

well, why choose? write a query letter for each style, and send to agents that deal with each and see what happens. just a thought.

love Gail

p.s. I had an MRI, brain MRI and I swear I was forced backwards in to a HUGE hard plastic vagina!! For some reason I thought you would get a kick out of knowing that. :-)

Utah Savage said...

I've had the MRI experience too, but I didn't think Vagina, I though meat grinder or something else that was not so friendly. Vagina seems like a warm and cozy place to me. I hope your results are good Gail. Keep us all informed, please.

Gail said...

Hi again-

well, it looked like a vagina, it was an open positional MRI so it was hard plastic and squished me - and as far as the results? i probably wont talk to my neuro guy until my appointment on 9/15 - this mri was mainly as a marker to see how much the M S has progressed. and the weird thing is, regardless? it doesn't change a thing - I still will do and not do exactly as I have been, medications, limits, freedoms, all the same.

and what did you think about sending 2 different query letters, one for novels and one for memoirs.

love Gail

Utah Savage said...

Gail, I think it might be very good advise. Still doesn't make the query letter any easier, since the query gets your foot in the door.

I wish your son all the best and keep us posted.

I wish you well, but I hope you know that. Yesterday was the last of Z's treatments. She is very tearful today. I think she might not have believed she'd survive them.

Gail said...

Hi Utah-

I am glad her treatments are over and that she DID survive. I trust her tears re tears of relief.

And yes, my son has agonized over his query letters too - I have read many of them just to say yay or nay - although I am no literary guide - I am one of many that he bounces his letters off of. (gosh that was horrible use of language) eesh!

Have a peaceful night
Love Gail

Dr. Zaius said...

Wirter's Market is a good place to start. I have a friend who has been published several times using this book.

PENolan said...

Creative Nonfiction is often used for Memoir these days. Poets & Writers is another source of publication information.

Anonymous said...

I found your link through Rachel's blog and saw you have the exact same problem I do.

My book started as a memoir but learned agents don't take memoirs unless you're famous or married to an agent. So I call it a fictionalized memoir. I did, in fact, change names, move events to a more convenient date of events, and place myself in scenes that, in reality, were situations known to me but I wasn't actually there.

So calling it fiction isn't off-base, nor is calling it memoir.

I struggle with how to word this on my query letter as fictionalized memoir means a different thing to different people. Like Middlesex and like A prayer of Owen Meany by John Irving. Both are fiction but they are written in first person about their childhoods and family. But they are truly fiction made to look like a memoir.

Keep in touch. I would like to know the outcome of your query process. I'm about to start in a week or so.

Sherry Pasquarello said...

poetry can be a lot like you say. even if it seems entirely fictional, it never is and when it's personal and true- it still is poetry-ed up.

Stella by Starlight said...

Did I read correctly that Z is doing better? Wonderful! I'm happy to hear about her treatment being over.

No ex-English major should comment on this post. Utah, bogus classifications are critical theory. Deconstructiom indicates that the artist doesn't write the book, the times do. Reader response criticism accepts each person's perspective about a work.

There is feminist theory,queery theory, new historicism, and a lot of other irrelevant classifications I blissfully forgot.

Critical theory or classification: ...seeks the excrecencies in an author's work and find meanings which [she] never intended... and plunders the branches of the Stymphalian fruit...

My point (I get to them eventually)? Classifying novels, memoirs, and Autobiographical memoirs are up to the individual. You'll get a lot of these responses. Please don't let them deter you with bogus classifications.

I love Dfmil09's comment: ...calling it fiction isn't off-base, nor is calling it memoir. And she offers wonderful advice.

I agree with Gail about sending two different query letters to market your work. I hope you are doing well, Gail. Having had MRs, your description was apt.

Utah, if I can help you with editing your business letters, please feel free to send them to me if you like. I've spent many working years on that task.

Stella by Starlight said...

P.S. I've added all your public blog links to my blog.

Mauigirl said...

I think autobiographical novel is best. You don't want to be the next James Frey! ;-)

La Belette Rouge said...

I have always loved Lauren Slater's take on the topic, "Metaphorical Memoir". I think that is what I am going with. Feel free to join Lauren and me.;-)

Randal Graves said...

Giving up on the Star Trek fan fiction, huh.